It won’t be too inappropriate the odd historical link between Bombay and this song. One has to go almost 187 years back to September 1814, when newly independent united states was at battle with BRITAIN again during the war of 1812, a two-year war that set the boundaries between the us and Canada.
By august 1814, the British forces seemed to be in the ascendant. They had had a number of successes, most notably, the sacking of Washington where they burned the capitol, the White House and the offices of Treasury Departments on august 24, 1814. From there they moved on Baltimore, attacking fort McHenry in Baltimore harbour from September 11 to 13.
Just before the battle, Dr William Beanes, a local magistrate in the town of upper Marlboro near Baltimore had stragglers from the British forces thrown in jail. one of them escaped and reported Beanes’s action, which the British commander took as a hostile action. A detachment of British soldiers went to upper Marlboro to take Dr Beanes into custody. As soon as they heard about this, two of Dr Beanes’s friends, Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer and colonel John Stuart Skinner went to Baltimore to plead for Dr Beanes’s release with the British commander.
He agreed, but detained the Americans aboard one of his troop ships, the HMS Minden until the attack was over, to prevent them passing on any military information to the American Army. The attack was fierce and to the Americans watching the bombardment from the boat, it seemed like the fort was likely to surrender.
As the sun went down, Key saw that the large red, white and blue flag of the new republic was still flying from the fort, and expected that by the next morning it would have gone as a sign of the fort’s surrender. But when morning came, the Americans were amazed to see the flag still flying, although scarred from the battle.
Key was so moved by this sight that he wrote these words right where he was on the ship: “Oh say can you see, by the dawns early light what so proudly we hailed by the twilight’s last gleaming whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming and the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” he later finished the poem back on land, and published it, anonymously, as “The Defense of Fort McHenry” in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20, 1814.
It was quickly reprinted elsewhere, then set to music and renamed the star spangled banner.” It became one of the most popular American Patriotic songs, finally being officially made the National Anthem relatively recently, on March 3, 1931.
And what about the Bombay connection?
The HMS Minden from where Key saw the bombardment was constructed in Bombay by the incredible Parsi Ship Builder of Wadia Shipping Corporation
(an ancestor to Nusli Wadia of ‘Bombay Dyeing Mills’ today) at the Duncan Docks in Bombay Harbour, which is still an active dry dock in the Naval Dockyard.
The HMS Minden was the first ship from India that was commissioned into the Royal Navy, where she saw active service around the world, including during the war of 1812. She had a somewhat ignominous end, serving in Hong Kong as a Seamen’s Hospital until she was declared too old for use and broken apart there.
The next time you hear The Star Spangled Banner playing, you can remember the origin of the birth place of The American National Anthem, abroad the HMS Minden constructed by the foremost Pioneer Parsi of The Wadia Ship Building Corporation.